Writing Lecture/Objective Seven
A Life Changing Event
A good story begins at the Good Part. I say this all the time because it bears repeating. In this week's assignment, The Good Part is a major component of the prompt.
The basis for the notion is that for the most part a person's life is rather uneventful. We get up in the morning, go through the bathroom routine, go to work, come home, eat, and go to bed.
Still, on rare occasions, we face a Life Changing Event (LCE). It's in one of these where all good stories begin. Something happens to jerk the CC out of his or her rut and causes a new course to be set. When this happens, the CC must step back and assess what's going on. How will this event effect what his or her Wants, Needs, and Desires are? What has been happening up to this point? Are there life style habits that have to change? Are there character traits that must undergo modification? Added to these is the certainty that there will be fresh obstacles the character must overcome and past behaviors he or she must adjust in order to conform to changes in circumstances.
What this means to the writer is that in the time line of his or her story this event must be introduced early on, but not before we get a look at the CC and what makes this character tick. The world of the story is where all this occurs. It needs to come early but perhaps not immediately. However, the writer should not defer it until after the first three chapters of the novel. The reader will start fidgeting long before that happens. So, in the timeline of the story, this becomes a pivotal point in the CCs life, one that changes everything.
What I see in a lot of writing is anything but this Life Changing Event. What I do see is a stream of conscious that ambles along making me yawn and say, "So what?" If this is a story about mowing the lawn or selling lemonade or a recollection of someone's first date, then this might make for an interesting vignette or flash fiction. However, it simply won't have the stamina for a longer and more serious piece of work. The reader is looking for certain things to come up front. A life changing event is one of them.
If the readers have some age and maturity, they're going to know what that sort of event looks like, smells like, sounds like, and feels like. They will have acquired something known as experience and although it hasn't happened many times, it's something they remember at the visceral level. They will know if this Life Changing Event has a ring of authenticity.
Here is an example. In the screen play Real Steel1, the CC is moving along fat, dumb, and happy in his downward spiral of debauchery. He is close to an all time low, analogous to a drunk waking up in an alley with a Hobo urinating on his head. At this juncture, he gets word from a lawyer his ex-wife has died, and her sister wants to adopt his son. "No problemooo," our hero thinks. Then one thing leads to another, and he winds up with his son for the summer. This is the life changing event in the movie. This is going to create all kinds of turmoil in the world of the CC, and everything that revolves around it or spins off is a footnote. Some exciting footnotes, but footnotes none the less.
I use the example of this movie a lot, not because I think it's necessarily Oscar quality material, but because those who wrote the novel and screen-play knew the craft, inside and out. It's chock full of vivid examples of how to go about writing a good story.
Percy Goodfellow - Workshop Instructor
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